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Russia’s Last appeal to US Voters: Russia has no intention of interfering in America’s Presidential Elections

The hope is that Trump will continue to "sow chaos" in the U.S. political system, distracting Washington elites while Moscow defends its own interests

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FILE - A woman wears a shirt reading "Trump Putin '16" while waiting for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a campaign event at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H., Feb. 7, 2016. VOA
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Moscow, November 8, 2016: As the U.S. presidential campaign winds down to its final hours, Kremlin presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued Russia’s own last appeal to US voters: Russia has no intention of interfering in America’s elections.

Never mind White House charges of Kremlin hacking of Democratic Party computers. Never mind the Wikileaks release of Clinton campaign emails that US intelligence says come from Russia’s secret services. And never mind a relentlessly partisan Russian state media campaign that has promoted one candidate over another – both at home and abroad.

In a year where Russia has taken center stage role in America’s elections, the Kremlin spokesman dismissed interest in any possible Russian subterfuge as simply “absurd.”

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“[The Americans] have enough problems without us,” said Peskov.

Welcome to the next phase of the Kremlin’s take on America’s elections:

Whoever the victor, the outcome will show how broken and corrupt the American democracy has become.

And the Kremlin is preparing.

In the run up to election day, Russian state television is warning of ‘dead souls’ rising from the grave to vote (for Clinton); ‘carousel’ voting in the inner cities (for Clinton), decrepit American election infrastructure prone to manipulation (by Clinton); and suggesting the will of American voters (for Trump) will be subverted by the U.S. electoral college delegates (for Clinton).

Dmitry Kiselev, anchor of the weekly Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week), whose nationally televised program has pushed conspiracies surrounding the American vote for months, predicted nothing short of a stolen election (by Clinton).

“After these elections, the U.S. may find its addressing itself with the same phrase that it awards others: that the U.S. elections were not transparent, were conducted without real competition, and included mass falsifications and government abuse.”

“They cannot” concluded Kiselev, “be considered free or democratic.”

The message, says Vladimir Frolov, a foreign policy analyst and columnist with The Moscow Times, is clear.

“The intent is to discredit the system,” he told VOA. “So-called American democracy stinks. It’s a circus and nothing to envy,” said Frolov.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, July 26, 2016. VOA
FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, July 26, 2016. VOA

Kremlin favorite?

Even to casual Russia observers, the Kremlin’s passive preference for a Donald Trump presidency has been apparent, if not understandable, throughout the election season.

Trump’s positions on key issues of the day – from Syria, to Ukraine, to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe – dovetail with Russia’s own declared interests. Clinton campaign charges that Trump is colluding with the Russian authorities notwithstanding, FBI-led investigations into the issue have found no proof.

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That, said Frolov, makes little difference from the Kremlin’s point of view. “What’s not to like?” he asked.

By contrast, state media has relentlessly embraced far-ranging conspiracies surrounding Hillary Clinton’s campaign: Mrs. Clinton is sick and ailing; she is corrupt and facing certain indictment or prison; and she is beholden to nefarious dark forces, including radical terrorist groups.

Most importantly, Clinton is portrayed as virulently anti-Russian.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s antipathy to the Democratic Party nominee, in particular, is well known. In 2011, he accused Clinton, then U.S. Secretary of State, of “giving the signal” to thousands of Russians who protested rigged elections during the country’s parliamentary elections.

Polls reflect the pileup of negative coverage since.

Over a third of Russians believe a Trump presidency will bring an improvement in relations. By contrast, a majority think U.S.-Russian relations – already deeply troubled – will suffer more under a future Clinton administration. A separate poll showed nearly half of Russians think a direct war between the U.S. and Russia likely.

Amid the growing Russia controversy this election season, Putin denounced candidates playing “the Russia card.” Moscow, said Putin, was willing to work with either Trump or Clinton — provided the new occupant in the White House meets Russian interests halfway.

But Konstantin von Eggart, a long time analyst and host of the independent TV Rain channel’s coverage of the U.S. elections, says he finds the Kremlin’s overt tilt towards Donald Trump “bizarre.”

“I think Russia’s policy is a big blunder,” says von Eggart. “Even in the Soviet days the Politburo wasn’t influencing in the U.S. elections because they knew they’d have to work with whoever was the next American president.»

Yet von Eggart predicts the Kremlin will double down in the event of a Clinton win on November 8th. “They’ll blow out of proportion any irregularities to say the Trump was denied victory.”

The hope, he adds, is that Trump will continue to “sow chaos” in the U.S. political system, distracting Washington elites while Moscow defends its own interests.

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Meanwhile, foreign policy analyst Frolov argues the Kremlin’s focus on undermining the current U.S. campaign is merely “a shot across the bow” ahead of Russia’s own presidential elections – scheduled for 2018.

Vladimir Putin, in and out of power since 1999, has yet to declare himself a candidate. But Frolov suggested a future memo to Washington regarding the election day 2018 was already being drafted:

The message: “Who are you to judge?” (VOA)

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Twitter Releases Tweets Showing Attempts Of Influence On U.S. Politics From Foreign Countries

All of the accounts linked to the massive trove of tweets released by Twitter have been suspended or deleted.

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Twitter
The Twitter logo is shown at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California. VOA

On Wednesday, Twitter released a collection of more than 10 million tweets related to thousands of accounts affiliated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency propaganda organization, as well as hundreds more troll accounts, including many based in Iran.

The data, analyzed and released in a report by The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, are made up of 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, 770 other accounts potentially based in Iran as well as 10 million tweets and more than 2 million images, videos and other media.

Russian trolls targeting U.S. politics took on personas from both the left and the right. Their primary goal appears to have been to sow discord, rather than promote any particular side, presumably with a goal of weakening the United States, the report said.

DFRlab says the Russian trolls were often effective, drawing tens of thousands of retweets on certain posts including from celebrity commentators like conservative Ann Coulter.

Russia, Twitter
The Internet Research Agency building, dubbed the Russian troll factory, is seen at Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg, Russia. VOA

Some of the tweets posted:

“Judgement Day is here. Please vote #TrumpPence16 to save our great nation from destruction! #draintheswamp #TrumpForPresident,” said a fake Election Day tweet in 2016.

“Daily reminder: Trump still hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia that were passed 4,193 in the House and 982 in the Senate. Shouldn’t that be grounds for impeachment?” said another tweet in March of this year.

Multiple goals

The Russian operation had multiple goals, including interfering in the U.S. presidential election, polarizing online communities, and weakening trust in American institutions, according to the DFRLab.

“The thing to understand is that the Russians were equal opportunity partisans,” Graham Brookie, one of the researchers behind the analysis, told VOA News. “There was a very specific focus on specific ideological communities and specific demographics.”

Twitter
The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, speaks at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington. VOA

Following an initial push to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected in 2016, the analysis identified a “second wave” of fake accounts, many of which were focused on infiltrating anti-Trump groups, especially those identified with the “Resistance” movement, exploiting sensitive issues such as race relations and gun violence. These often achieved greater impact than their conservative counterparts.

“Don’t ever tell me kneeling for the flag is disrespectful to our troops when Trump calls a sitting Senator “Pocahontas” in front of Native American war heroes,” tweeted an account posing as an African-American woman named “Luisa Haynes” under the handle @wokeluisa in November 2017. The tweet garnered more than 32,000 retweets and over 89,000 likes.

“They tried to inflame everybody, regardless of race, creed, politics or sexual orientation,” the Lab noted in its analysis. “On many occasions, they pushed both sides of divisive issues.”

Iran trolling

Iran’s trolling was primarily focused on promoting its own interests, including attacking regional rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, Iran’s trolling was less effective than the Russian posts, with most tweets getting limited responses.

Twitter
Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill. VOA

This was partially because of posting styles that were less inflammatory, according to the report.

“Few of the accounts showed distinctive personalities: They largely shared online articles,” according to the report. “As such, they were a poor fit for Twitter, where personal comment tends to resonate more strongly than website shares.” Generally, many troll posts were ineffective, and “their operations were washed away in the firehose of Twitter.”

All of the accounts linked to the massive trove of tweets released by Twitter have been suspended or deleted, and the analysis notes that overall activity from suspected Russian trolls fell this year after Twitter clampdowns in September and June 2017.

Also Read: Facebook Better Prepared To Defend Itself Against External Manipulation For The Elections

But, that does not mean political trolls do not still pose a threat.

“Identifying future foreign influence operations, and reducing their impact, will demand awareness and resilience from the activist communities targeted, not just the platforms and the open source community,” according to the report. (VOA)